Nurse Catherine Asks...
After being diagnosed with relapsing multiple sclerosis, some of your favorite hobbies may now seem out of reach. But don’t lose hope. It is possible to modify some activities, and you may even find some new interests that you never would’ve come across otherwise. How have you adjusted or found new hobbies?
Finding new passions after an MS diagnosis
January 7, 2019
My multiple sclerosis diagnosis triggered the end of my military career. Even though I was highly qualified for many opportunities, I was no longer physically able to perform. Hobbies such as hiking seemed out of reach. As a divemaster, I loved working with scuba students. Could I dive again with MS? What was to come next? I had to learn to change my ways of thinking. Instead of lamenting what I couldn’t do, I learned to focus on what I COULD do, and finding ways to adapt to this new reality.
It turns out that the future was not as bleak as I feared. I can still go for a hike, but now I try to get moving very early while it is still cool. I have a pair of trekking poles in both cars, and they help immensely. I’ve caught the photography bug and, though I can’t honestly claim the title “photographer,” I’ve quite enjoyed exploring the world through a lens. I’ve tried my hand at fly fishing—still working on that art, and I have time to do early morning work in the flower beds. I started volunteering with the American Red Cross, working in biomedical services as a blood donor ambassador, and in volunteer services as a trainer.
I have not yet returned to recreational diving, but it is a promise on the horizon. I would have to plan the dives conservatively, and remain aware that some MS symptoms are very similar to those seen in decompression sickness. I’ll take up the subject with my neurologist first, but that door did not automatically close with the relapsing MS diagnosis.
Some of the most meaningful moments in my military service were those times when I felt I was helping people. With the end of one career, I decided to take a completely new path, and went back to graduate school. Thanks to the Veterans Administration, I am enrolled in a terrific distance learning program at George Washington University, pursuing an MA in Rehabilitation Counseling. In the end, I will be positioned to assist others in dealing with disabilities and reentry into the workforce.
I have met some wonderful people on this journey and have come to appreciate small things. To me, staying active is important. It helps keep my mind active and my spirits up. Transitioning to rehabilitation counseling has given me a new purpose and I’m looking forward to the opportunities. The diagnosis was a life-changer, and the unpredictable nature of MS makes the future uncertain, but I have learned to excel within the MS framework. Some days are better than others, but I get through the bad days and embrace the good ones.
Finding new passions after an MS diagnosis
January 7, 2019
Shortly after my diagnosis, I was asked to speak to a large group about my recent experience. It was a confusing time for me. I was still learning about the disease myself, researching my options and trying to process all this. It was too soon, so I said no.
While working through the emotions after receiving a relapsing multiple sclerosis diagnosis, I doubt if anyone would be eager to publicly advertise their situation. Like most people after a diagnosis, I was feeling angry, scared, and fearful of the future with all its uncertainty, while all the time trying to portray strength and bravery on the outside.
Years later, I was invited again to speak to that same group. And do you know what? I accepted! I saw things more clearly, including the beautiful picture that came from my own story. Each struggle brought focus to the things that I hold most precious. It gave me the ability to observe things that I would not otherwise appreciate. Like the gifts of sight, touch, taste, and mobility.
By sharpening skills that I never knew I possessed, I found a purpose for my passions. My passion to learn gave me the desire to want to share what I had learned. I found the courage to reach out, rather than to experience the regret that comes with staying in the safe place of doing nothing. These moments would have been tossed aside and sadly, I would have never known of them or given them time to develop, like when I had a book published!
Through what I once considered a “forced” detour in my life, I ended up discovering activities that made me happy and fulfilled. I felt this detour gave me permission to seek things that nurtured my soul and spirit and I began to appreciate how precious time is.
Dishes will always be there. Will I remember the satisfaction of a clean sink? Or will I remember taking time to watch the sunset and listen to the waves of Lake Michigan with the soft sand between my (sometimes numb) toes with my family?
I enjoy walking down to my garden. I enjoy the feeling of the plump fresh blueberries in my fingers as I pluck them from my own bushes! I enjoy reading a book and the taste of my favorite fresh blueberry pie. It doesn’t get much better than that, appreciating the things that you once thought you may have lost.
I give myself permission to carve out time for the most important things, and I believe, wholeheartedly, that it has positively affected my MS symptoms. For example, I begin my day meditating on scripture. I find it gives me focus on how to allocate the rest of my day.
By finding my passions and creatively expressing myself, I have learned to manage my MS and meet my goals. I smile. And I appreciate the plan, however unplanned it was by me.
Nurse Catherine Sums It Up
There are ways to enjoy your hobbies or interests, although you might need to be willing to make some modifications. Or, you can try something totally new. Take some time to explore different activities, and don’t panic if you don’t find something right away. Appreciate the journey. Whatever you choose to do, make sure you’re physically and emotionally ready. Talk to your healthcare provider about your options. Aside from finding out what is safe for you, they might even have some recommendations.
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